November runoff set for state schools chief
Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010 | Three candidates emerged from a crowded field of 12 for state superintendent of public instruction, with two career politicians and a dark horse contender still in the race late Tuesday.
The top two vote getters will head into a November runoff for the nonpartisan post.
Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, and former district Superintendent Larry Aceves carried the most votes in early returns. State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, a favorite in the race, was in third place late in the evening, with a significant number of Los Angeles County votes still uncounted.
The runoff will give voters a clear-cut choice. Torlakson has the big-money support of the state's largest teachers union. Romero has cast herself as an education reformer, with heavy support from business leaders pushing for competition in public schools.
Aceves, a dark horse in the race, appealed to voters wanting a middle ground between Torlakson's traditional education establishment and Romero's reforms. He received newspaper endorsements from his opponents' home turf, including the Los Angeles Times and the Contra Costa Times.
Whoever comes in third could tip the scales in the November election with an endorsement and the added backing of unions, business or a bevy of school superintendents from across the state.
The California Teachers Association has strongly opposed Romero in the election, and it appears likely that the organization would toss its political and financial weight behind Aceves in the runoff if Torlakson is out.
Romero rolled the dice, trying to win the state's top schools job without the support of the teachers union - something that hasn't been done in decades and rarely before that.
Given Romero's support for charter schools and her stand against current teacher seniority rights, she had the support of business, including Eli Broad of the Broad Foundation, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
It's unclear whether such business interests would stand as strongly behind either Aceves or Torlakson.
Aceves, the former superintendent of San Jose's Franklin-McKinley and Alum Rock Union elementary school districts, thinks he would be a breath of fresh air on the Sacramento stage, someone who gets what's going on in schools and knows what works. A Romero or Aceves win in November would give the state its first Latino superintendent of public instruction.
Torlakson would head into November with a war chest of campaign contributions from a long list of labor organizations.He has opposed Race to the Top reforms and supports building bridges between the unions and education reform interests to create laws with significant buy-in from all sides. He prides himself on his record of bipartisan effort in the Legislature.
The candidates are seeking to replace state Superintendent Jack O'Connell, a former state legislator termed out this year. O'Connell endorsed Torlakson.
The job of state schools chief is technically an administrative post with the responsibility to run the California Department of Education and implement state policy. The position comes with a big soapbox.
The winner in November will face the challenge of carrying out state education policy on a shoestring budget, overseeing the state's 1,000 school districts and 9,500 schools serving 6.3 million students.
Run off shaping up in superintendent of public instruction race
Dan Smith | SacBee Capitol Alert blog
June 8, 2010 | It appears that no candidate will have the 50 percent needed to win the state school chief's job outright, but Larry Aceves and Tom Torlakson are leading in early returns. The two top vote-getters in the nonpartisan race will advance to the November general election.
With 12 percent of the statewide vote counted, Aceves had 21 percent to Torlakson's 18 percent. Sen. Gloria Romero is running third with 14 percent of the vote.
All three leading candidates - Torlakson, a Democratic assemblyman from Pittsburg, Romero, D-Los Angeles, and former school superintendent Aceves - saw their campaigns waged largely by others through independent expenditure committees. EdVoice, a nonprofit, pro-charter school group backed Romero, while teachers unions supported Torlakson and the Association of California School Administrators backed Aceves.
Reform candidate Romero lags in superintendent race
By Rebecca Kimitch Staff Writer | Whittier Daily News
Posted: 06/08/2010 09:46:59 PM PDT
The fate of major education reforms in California laid in the balance Tuesday, and voters appeared to have doubts about their merit - pushing the debate to November.
Despite a big push for reform by Sen. Gloria Romero in the race for superintendent of public instruction, the state's highest elected education office, voters were leaning toward her two reform-wary opponents, according to early election results.
Retired school superintendent Larry Aceves and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, who represents a district in the Bay Area, were holding onto first and second place at press time.
If no candidate wins 50 percent outright - which is unlikely since 12 candidates want the job - the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff in the November general election.
Gloria Romero. Tom Torlakson
The election has largely been framed as a referendum on reforms, such as creating more charter schools, allowing open enrollment between districts and establishing merit-based pay.
Romero, who is backed by the reform advocacy group EdVoice, supports the reforms, while Torlakson, backed by the state's powerful teachers unions, campaigned against them.
Aceves positioned himself in the middle of the two, supporting a handful of reforms but opposing many others. Relative to the other leading candidates, he had much less financial support, but he did boast the endorsements of the home newspapers of both his opponents - the Los Angeles Times and the Contra Costa Times.
"What's at stake is the conversation about the future of public education in California ... there couldn't be a bigger contrast between the candidates," said Gary Davis, the political director for EdVoice.
But while Romero and Torlakson fought over the merits of reform, Aceves said voters appreciated his "in the trenches" experience as a superintendent for 15 years at several San Jose-area school districts.
"It is very clear when I talk about the issues, I know there are no quick fixes and (voters) understand that," he said. "My opponents talk about a kind of silver bullet solution, and when you go a little deeper, you have to ask, `How will you implement that?' When I talk about reforms, changes, I can talk about from the classroom up."
Romero has been one of the biggest advocates of the reforms backed by President Barack Obama, including increasing the number of charter schools and linking teacher evaluations to student performance.
From her post heading the Senate Education Committee she has pushed legislation to allow parents to pull their children out of failing school districts and enroll them elsewhere and to allow districts to lay off teachers based on effectiveness instead of seniority.
The state's teachers unions have largely objected to these reforms, and campaigned strongly against Romero. And they flooded the airwaves with commercials endorsing Torlakson.
Torlakson rejects what he calls "fancy fad reforms," in favor of "traditional California education."
Instead of shutting down failing schools and firing teachers, Torlakson says school funding needs to be increased, allowing class sizes to be reduced and art, music and sports programs to be restored.
"Parents really want their schools supported. They're upset with class sizes ... not having such a focus on testing, testing, testing, and allowing more time on traditional attracters for students like art, music, sports so they feel attached to school," Torlakson said. "Schwarzenegger and others have been focusing on fad reforms that aren't proven."
Aceves said improving schools will take a mix of reforms and more funding.
"Do the resources for schools need to be increased? Of course, but despite that, there are changes, reforms we can put in place that aren't tied to funding ... it can't simply be more money," Aceves said.
For example, Aceves supports increasing superintendents' and principals' ability to fire and suspend failing teachers.
But he, like Torlakson, opposes Romero's legislation to allow students at failing districts to transfer to other districts.
Both men say such open enrollment only hurts the students left behind, whose parents cannot afford to transport them outside the neighborhood.
The California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, and California School Employees Association are responsible for independent expenditures in favor of Torlakson amounting to more than $1.2 million.
But independent expenditures on behalf of Romero were even greater. EdVoice, with the help of wealthy Californians such as developer and philanthropist Eli Broad and Netflix founder Reed Hastings, has spent $1.5 million in its attempt to sell her to voters.
Aceves' support came largely from the Association of School Administrators, which spent more than $400,000 on his behalf.
Whether they will be able to keep that support up in a potential Aceves-Torlakson race in November is unclear.
CTA-backed candidates have held the office for 16 years, first Delaine Eastin in 1994 then Jack O'Connell in 2002.
CTA spokesman Mike Myslinki said the CTA's state council will meet this weekend to discuss how it will further support Torlakson in the coming months before the November election.